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Corruption in Spain is a Worrisome Issue

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Over the last decade, corruption cases in Spain have increased significantly. Spaniards regard corruption as the fourth main worrisome issue and 93 percent consider public administration to be corrupt.

The map to the right shows the location of the ongoing corruption cases by cities; while the map below it indicates corruption cases in the Canary Islands. There are currently 390 open corruption cases.

We can see from both maps that to a large extent the cases focus in three areas:

– The centre of Spain. Specifically in the Madrid autonomous community.

– Alongside the Mediterranean Coast, from Huelva to Castellon.

– The North Coast; many of them in Galicia and the Basque Country.

Also, we can see that there is a link between public fraud and population density. Those areas with large populations tend to have more corruption; and, the richer the area, the larger its population. Consequently, there are more politicians and businessmen. 

Looking at both maps below, it is obvious that there is less fraud in sparsely populated areas, affirming the apparent link between the economic development of an area and its level of corruption. 

Many cities and regions experienced strong economic development during the Spanish property bubble from 1998 to 2008. The construction industry propelled Spain´s economy, making up to 8 percent of GDP in 2007 (it was only 4.7 percent in 1997). Prices per square meter soared from 1,000 euros ($1300) to around €2700 ($3500) in those ten years. In 1998, a standard 100m2 (1,076.39104 ft²) house cost 100,000 euros ($131,000). The same house increased to double its price by 2004 (200,000 euros or 262,000 dollars), and almost tripled it by 2008 (approximately 270,000 euros or $355,000).

Thus, a large portion of the malfeasance cases that appear on the maps are somehow linked to businessmen, construction companies, or real estate developers. In many cases, they bribed politicians at a local or regional level in order to obtain favorable contracts, rezone neighborhoods and other areas, and build properties in “green areas” (Land that should have been used to create parks or public spaces to foster the common welfare instead of real estate) among other tricks. Therefore some politicians obviously obtained their influential positions to make dirty money.

Corruption grew alarmingly in the coastal populations. During the property bubble years, a large number of new buildings were built in the coastal areas. The tourism industry is very important to the Spanish economy, providing 11 percent of GDP. The coastal cities encouraged construction in order to make their cities attractive to tourists. Consequently, they invested in bricks: new hotels, new harbors, amusement parks, new properties, golf courses, refurbished sea promenades, and so on. Therefore there was a stream of money going up and down through the town halls, tempting public workers to commit fraud. And eventually some of them fell to the temptation.

– On the Mediterranean Coast, from Huelva to Castellon, including the Balearic Islands, the construction industry is involved in 21 out of the 29 public fraud scandals.

– On the North Coast, from Galicia to the Basque Country, there are 16 trials related to public fraud. In all of them the construction industry is involved.

– In the Canary Islands, there are another 16 politicians accused of corruption and 13 of those show links to the former industry.

Furthermore, the situation becomes more dramatic when we realize that the two main parties in the country are involved in 305 of 390 corruption scandals. The People´s Party (PP) accounts for 177 public fraud cases (45.38 percent of the total) whereas the Socialist Party ranks second having 128 open trials (32.82 percent). Both together amount to 78.2 percent of the total. The remaining 21.8 percent belongs to regional parties that have large support in their areas.

The accused public workers shown on the map have ongoing trials, but the judiciary system is slow. Jose Ignacio Navas Oloriz, civil law notary, asserts that the Spanish judicial process is slow because it lacks essential personnel to handle the cases. In addition, the former General Prosecutor of Catalonia, Jose Maria Mena, said that individuals accused of corruption have good attorneys who know how to hinder the process and eventually, get short imprisonment sentences for their clients. Therefore, many Spaniards consider that political corruption goes unpunished.

In addition, the Spanish people are monitoring the trial against Iñaki Urdangarin (King Juan Carlos´s son-in-law) who was involved in November 2011 in the Palma Arena public fraud case. It seems that Urdangarin allegedly persuaded some Spanish administrations to sign agreements with his company (the Noos Institute), which is a nonprofit organization. Because of Mr. Urdangarin´s high position, this case will serve as a good indicator to assess to what degree the judiciary system is independent and how well it operates.

Spain has big trouble with corruption. Even though many of the public administrations work transparently, several corruption cases have arisen in the last years, worsening the overall image. In harsh economic times in which politicians demand austerity, Spaniards demand justice and political honesty.

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